Indicators Program


What are Indicators?

An indicator is a measurable variable (such as water temperature or unemployment rate) that, when evaluated over time, gives us a sense of how the variable and things related to it may be changing. An environmental indicator, for example, might be water-borne bacteria, which gives us information about the health of the estuary and the safety of oyster and clam consumption by humans, or may flag issues related to the status of public infrastructure (e.g. wastewater facilities, stormwater systems), or land use practices in the watershed. Well-chosen indicators are easily understood by scientists and non-scientists alike, allowing local decision makers to evaluate long-term change related to locally defined priority issues.

Environmental Indicators

An environmental indicators program will provide local decision-makers with long-term empirical data and predictive modeling capabilities to help evaluate the status of aquatic or other natural resources they’re helping manage.

An example of a local issue that would benefit from an indicators program is the long-term effects of habitat restoration on salmonid and lamprey populations. Indicators to help inform this issue could be local summertime stream flow and temperature, restored riparian and tidal wetland habitat, yearly adult returns and juvenile populations of Coho salmon and lamprey, among others.

Social and Economic Indicators

The Partnership for Coastal Watersheds stresses the importance of pairing socioeconomic with bio-physical indicators to develop a holistic approach to helping our community address current issues and prepare for probable future changes. To this end, both social and economic indicators will be developed alongside the ecological indicators.

Economic indicators measure variables that describe the state of the local economy (e.g., new residential home construction, unemployment rates, bankruptcies). An example economic issue for the Coos Bay area might be the status of local fisheries and related changes in fishery regulations. An example indicator that would help define those issues might be the economic value of seasonal catch per fishery, number of vessels in the active fishing fleet, or employment rates among fishers.

Social indicators measure quality of life or human well-being and could include high school or college graduation rates, poverty rates, various measures of human health. For example, a local social issue might be increased residential development targeted at second home owners and retirees. Example indicators to monitor this could include those that evaluate population composition and associated vulnerability, labor force structure, or retiree in-migration.

Partnership Indicators Program Development

The main goal of the Partnership for Coastal Watersheds Indicators Program is to provide our community the tools with which to understand long-term environmental and socioeconomic change in our estuary and surrounding communities. One outcome will be to help the community identify local signals of climate change and local effects of human activities.

The Partnership Indicators Program has several objectives to accomplish this:

1. Select socially relevant, operationally feasible, and scientifically defensible socioeconomic and environmental indicators that allow evaluations of change related to priority issues identified in the Partnership Action plan.
2. Establish a threshold, or range of acceptable levels for each indicator based on management goals, social values, and scientific defensibility.
3. Periodically review the indicators for their effectiveness and make adjustments as needed.

The Partnership Indicators Program is still in the beginning phase of development. It will be developed subsequent to and thus informed by the other Phase 2 projects, including the development of new monitoring tools, and the Coos Estuary Inventory Project.

Indicator Selection

In order to select appropriate indicators, the Indicators Program will use a Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework (see below) to identify key indicators, understand their connectivity with other related variables, formulate potential responses to threshold levels being crossed, and demonstrate effects of management decisions.

Since successful indicator programs rely on regularly collected monitoring data, the indicators included in the PCW Indicators Program will be selected from existing long-term monitoring programs.

Specific indicators will be selected using the criteria outlined in Foushee 2010. (See tables A and B below): 1) relevance to specific issues in question; 2)responsiveness to relevant pressures and to corrective actions; 3) measurability; 4) interpretability; 5) ability to integrate with other measurements of similar attributes; and 6) statistically sound. Indicators will also need to be operationally feasible and so should also meet these criteria: 1) relevant for the community; 2) operationally feasible; 3) able to integrate with other indicator programs; 4) scaled appropriately; 5) relevant to management actions; and 6) supported by funding.


Tables A and B: Weighted scoring rubric showing ecological criteria (A) and operational feasibility criteria (B) from Foushee 2010.

Tables A and B: Weighted scoring rubric showing ecological criteria (A) and operational feasibility criteria (B) from Foushee 2010.

The Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework is an easily understandable way to look at the pressures on an ecosystem, generally from human activities, the state of the ecosystem, and responses that can help alleviate pressures. An indicator can be from any of the these three categories. The example shown below is looking at the issue of healthy salmon populations. Indicators to inform the issue could be sedimentation (a pressure), adult returns (a state), or culvert replacements (a response).

The Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework

References: Foushee, Autumn. 2010. Identifying Ecological Indicators of Climate Change and Land Use Impacts to a Coastal Watershed. University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.